16 December 2013
AURANGZEB (Dir. Atul Sabharwal, 2013, India) - Iconographic Assemblages
Aurangzeb defines its very cinematic existence on the platitudes of old Hindi cinema, refabricating familiar and outlandish tropes with a sensitivity that touches you emotionally. Invoking the double role, the fragile mother figure, the dirty cop(s), a murky political context and a tale of brotherly disharmony finally aspires to 1970s populist Hindi cinema which other Yash Raj productions have failed to reclaim. The failure of Tashaan springs to mind. What appeared to be a fad for the 1970s and 1980s action cinema has given birth to a cycle of retro po-mo masala films fetishizing the hard body. Aurangzeb succeeds since its homage to such tropes is underlined by a modulated sincerity which doesn’t sit well with critics and audiences expecting a film of this nature to be simply in awe of its referents. The failure of Aurangzeb at the box office is not surprising given the absence of a major star other than the Yash Raj banner under which it was produced. I couldn’t help but be reminded of films such as Trishul, Deewaar and even the elaborate Desai narratives of coincidence. In a way, this is a film that understands masala melodrama and gives it to us unfiltered in a contemporary context. Like many of the great Hindi melodramas of the 1970s such as Deewaar, Aurangzeb rejects conventionality in terms of content by distancing song and dance for more thematic avenues. Given the comparison to Deewaar, I’m wary of placing it in such exalted company but it’s a film that isn’t ashamed of its masala roots and gives it to you very obviously and genuinely. It is also a film populated by the likes of Anupam Kher, Amrita Singh and Rishi Kapoor, redeployed, as is Jackie Shroff, in customary iconographic assemblages that evoke the infectious hyperbole of a bygone era. Films like Aurangzeb could be re-theorised under a new auspice, that of neo-masala cinema.